March 7, 2014 by Katia
What I really want to scream out loud is:
Hola, my name is IAMTHEMILK and if we haven’t met yet, it’s ok.
Seven years ago I moved to Canada and for the very first time in my life I found out what it meant to be an actual outsider, as in an outsider somewhere which is not called “inside my own head”.
With the status of outsider came some newly gained skills:
An “I-have-no-f*&$ing-idea-who/what-this-celebrity/politician/national hero/hockey player/significant event/childhood commercial-you’re-having-a-conversation-about-is-but-it’s-OK” smile.
An “I-did-not-understand-what-you-just-said-even-though-you’ve-used-words-that-I-know-but-arranged-them-in-a-way-I-wasn’t-expecting-into-an-unfamiliar-idiom-and-spoke-really-quickly-so-none-of-this-registered-in-my-head” generic cop out response.
A well hidden “OMG-I-said-“I don’t care”-when-I-should’ve-probably-said-“I don’t mind”-and-now-they’ll-think-I’m-a-jerk” scare.
And a full on “OMGOMGOMG-I’m-totally-blanking-on-an-English-word-here-talking-to-my-boss-they’re-going-to-notice-that-I’ve-suddenly-gone-mute-mid-sentence-and-think-I’m-crazy/an idiot/incapable-and-let-me-go” masked-panic attack. This is so NOT OK.
Despite being raised by first generation immigrants and thinking that I was familiar with the set of challenges that comes with the territory, the range of mildly to wildly unpleasant emotions described here were all first time discoveries for me. Which is why I don’t expect or assume that anyone who hasn’t actually moved countries and switched languages should be able to appreciate this. I get that you don’t understand it and really, It’s ok.
When you move to a new country if your mindset is positive you find ways to make your permanent stay there a pleasant one. You find reasons to justify your move. Typically you concentrate on things that cannot be found in your home country, like fresh Brussels sprouts or fresh episodes of El Bachelor. I’ve written before about being slightly addicted to this bottomless pit of bad taste and fireworks of cringe- inducing metaphors and like everyone else I was rooting for the newest bachelor, charming Juan Pablo.
If you don’t share my passion you may or may not be aware of the recent scandal revolving around the bachelor’s controversial statements on gay relationships. You may have also heard his explanation that the statement was taken out of context and yes, that English is his second language.
Let’s make it clear: I am not here to defend anti-gay views – I actually haven’t watched a single Olympic game or event this year due to my disgust with the hosting country’s medieval views and policies, including their anti-gay position – I am here to defend the POSSIBILITY that a non-native English speaker could form a terribly poor sentence in English.
Those criticizing Juan Pablo are referring to his “frequent” use of “English is not my first language” as a cop out and they may be right. But what if we entertain the idea that a non native English speaker’s statement that we may not have used your language correctly is valid. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it.
I’ve used “English is my second language” to explain myself before. Imagine being a soccer player transported into a hockey field, or a hip hop dancer on a classical ballet stage, while we get that we are expected to play hockey and pirouette we may take a few extra
clumsy steps to get there. While to those living in a reality where the words you say completely match your intention and those you hear never leave you baffled, might think that “English is my second language” people may occasionally require clarification of certain words and that about sums it up, there is so much more to that “EIMSL” state.
Watching an episode where one of the contestants was explaining to Juan Pablo that his “it’s OK” comes across as dismissive and reflects indifference and lack of interest in his conversation partner, I was getting increasingly anxious. As someone who often pairs these words together I felt myself falling back into my “newcomer mode” assessing myself, examining the contexts in which I’ve used “It’s ok”, wondering whether the parents in Four Year Old’s school, the service providers, cab drivers, candidates I’ve interviewed, colleagues at work and basically anyone I’ve ever met in Canada is under the impression that I’m the rudest person they’ve ever interacted with? The worst part was that I came back empty handed. See, I don’t have that internal mechanism that native speakers possess to help me determine the answer to such questions.
What I am capable of evaluating and assessing, however, are displays of mob mentality. They look the same everywhere, even if they’re well-intentioned and applied in the name of protecting crucial values such as equality. Tell you what, if you pursue political correctness and equality, like I do, then it’s not ok to shift into an all-bets-are-off gear and decide that the rules of political correctness no longer apply to someone who may not hold them himself and that making fun of a person’s accent on TV in front of a snorting audience while ridiculing his pronunciation repeating “Iss Ok-eh” over and over again IS OK*.
If you’ve decided that you’re over this particular bachelor in light of his potential views, you have every right to be and it’s ok, but don’t make one person’s potentially ignorant views de-validate my reality. English is my second language, is SO too a thing.
* Referring to this Monday’s Women Tell All episode where contestant Andi Dorfman ridiculed Juan Pablo’s use of the expression.
If you’re interested in reading more about the psychology of being an outsider, I’d refer you to one of my favourite blogs on the planet, Finding Ninee. Kristi’s blog is one to follow and not only for her series Our Land where she curates posts about the various aspects of living in a land of empathy and wonder and how to get there. I wrote a post for her about immigration awhile ago.
This was an FTSF post on the topic “What I really want to scream out loud is…”. Please visit the fabulous hosts:
Stephanie at Mommy, For Real
Kristi at Finding Ninee
Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic